I support Obamacare for the same reasons I support FEMA: We must take care of each other

Nytimes.com features dozens of fabulous pictures today. I especially like the one by Michael Kirby showing several police officers rescuing three-year-old Haley Rombi from dangerous flood waters. When natural disaster strikes, we need people to have our backs. As individuals, each of us is utterly vulnerable to many forces larger than ourselves. Acting together, we can protect each other against many of life’s scariest risks. Hurricane Sandy has battered the northeast. Watching the pictures, we glimpse the magnitude of destruction. Only we really can’t grasp it. One cubic meter of water weighs one metric ton, as much as my car. The energy contained within a storm surge raging towards us is literally unfathomable, out of human scale.

So it’s pretty damn inspiring to watch doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers, fire fighters, utility workers, air traffic controllers, meteorologists, construction workers. members of the armed forces, electricians, plumbers, engineers, public health officials, politicians, and ordinary people helping each other when such a storm strikes.

I feel the same way about some other things. I remember when Vincent moved into our home. Bewildering forms began arriving at our house, many from hospitals sporting impressive dollar figures, alongside the notation: “this is not a bill.”  The totals quickly accumulated: tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of dollars.  As I’ve said many times before, our family would have been whiped out if it weren’t for Medicare and Medicaid. These programs had our back when we needed them. most.

Writing in this morning’s Times, David Brooks worried that a second Obama term would “be about reasonably small things.” The words “implementing Obamacare” were included within a list supposedly illustrating this point. That’s not a small thing. Quite the opposite. Until the Affordable Care Act is securely implemented, tens of millions of people will lack the protections our family received. So many people are one car accident, one serious illness away from medical bankruptcy. We finally have the opportunity to remedy this scandalous situation.

As Americans, we need to protect each other against these risks, too. One person loses her house to a tidal wave of rushing water. Another loses her houses to a tidal wave of daunting medical bills. Both people need help.  As our glorious first responders struggle to address the carnage of Sandy, today is a good day to remember this simple point.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

6 thoughts on “I support Obamacare for the same reasons I support FEMA: We must take care of each other”

  1. Shorter Brooks: “The Upside of Opportunism: [R-money]’s more likely to get big stuff done.”

    This summary may save one or two other readers from wasting the time to read Brook’s whole column. Such a pity that the “big stuff” R-money would be likely to try to implement would be so stupid. Reminds me of a Harry Nilsson song from Robert Altman’s much maligned “Popeye”. Olive Oyl observes of Bluto that “he may not be the best … but he’s large.” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OGkyT4b94A ) Another line is also very true of R-money: “he’s got money”.

    1. “Much maligned”? Are you kidding me? This is one of the best works in a great oeuvre!

      Much maligned, my ass!

      1. “Much maligned” is a phrase typically used to distance oneself from a negative consensus. I haven’t watched the whole movie for many years myself, so I’m only reporting on the critical reaction I remember from the time it was released. I usually like Altman’s movies, though.

  2. You miss the point badly, Harold. Lots of the people you mention are (shudder) government employees, hence useless parasites by definition. When disaster strikes we should be relying on job creators, not these bureaucrats, to solve the problems.

  3. And in any case let’s take away their pensions. If they’d wanted a comfortable retirement, they should have been vulture capitalists.

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